A Man of Action

Thabet Abu Raas - Abraham Initiatives


The Full Weight

Thabet Abu Raas has felt the full weight of his identity since October 7.

 “I am a Palestinian. At the same time, I am a citizen of the state of Israel, and my country is at war with my people in Gaza,” says Thabet.  Everything, he says, has “hit me twice as hard.”

None of what is happening on either side of the Gaza-Israel border is abstract for Thabet, the CEO of The Abraham Initiatives, an organization that advocates for equal, positive Jewish-Arab relations in Israel and is named for their shared Biblical ancestor. 

In  his role at The Abraham Initiatives, he has been hard at work with his own colleagues and those at other Shared Society organizations trying to preserve and strengthen Arab-Jewish relations, to keep things as calm as possible, to, as he says, “prevent any riots, any deterioration.”  Like everyone in the country, he knows well how easily everything can unravel with the cautionary tale of May 2021 and the unprecedented level of Jewish-Arab violence that broke out in wake of the last war with Gaza.

And then there’s his family in Gaza, who he is profoundly worried for. Many relatives from his mother’s side live there. His aunt, 85, has been on the move, searching for a safe haven amid the devastating destruction and fighting. Twenty-four members of his extended family have been killed in the war. 

“We all know that in the war the rockets from Gaza do not distinguish between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish people. And let us remember that over 20 members of my Arab community here were killed on the seventh of October,” he says.

Palestinians Citizens of Israel

 “And at the same time, I have to take care of my family on the other side of the border, and see the massive (number of) civilians killed … so it’s really tough for me.”

The war comes at a particularly difficult time. Palestinian citizens of Israel, on the one hand, were already reeling from record homicide rates within their towns, cities and neighborhoods and feeling vulnerable because of the extremist bent of the current government, the most religious and far-right in Israel’s history. 

In wartime, that has translated into crackdowns on freedom of speech, which specifically impacts Arab citizens. About 150 university students are reportedly under investigation among others in the community, for posting messages of dissent about the war as tolerance for such statements has plummeted.

Recent budget debates in the Knesset are focused on widespread cuts, including some of the long-term commitments by previous governments to invest more in Arab communities in a bid to reduce the crime wave there and help reduce the socio-economic gaps between the Jewish and Arab communities.  This Thabet warns, could set the community back considerably, cutting into progress made in recent years from the increased investments.

A Man of Action

But challenging — and painful – – as this time is, Thabet is a man of action, for whom Shared Society has been his life’s work for decades. In the months since October 7 and the war, his and his colleagues focus at Abraham Initiatives and partner organizations have been calling for an end to the incitement and racism against Arab citizens and advocating for them within local and national government. Inside mixed cities and areas they have been working closely with police, municipal leaders and community members to move beyond just trying to prevent tensions but to strengthen ties and communication between Jewish and Arab communities within them. 

“We all know that the next day after the war, we have to continue to live here, nobody is leaving this place, and we have to find the way to live together and to work together,” he says.

One of their major projects is to increase the participation and representation of the Arab community within Israeli decision making. Their lobbyist in the Knesset has been especially busy advocating for Arab citizens’ rights for full social and civic equality. Another focus has been working with teachers and helping them confront racism and extremism in the schools by helping give them tools to address it and bring awareness of how essential Shared Society is for Israel’s very stability. 

“Israeli society is very polarized right now, it’s not (just) in terms of Jews vs Arabas or Arabs versus Jews. It’s within the Jewish community itself.  We see that everybody’s talking about the future of Israel, and the future of Israel”, he says. 

He calls October 7 a wake-up call for all Israeli citizens: “We must do everything necessary to achieve peace.”

Dina Kraft

Writer and Journalist

Dina Kraft is a writer and journalist based in Tel Aviv.  She is the Opinion Editor for Haaretz English and co-author of My Friend Anne Frank. She has written from the region for over two decades for The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Los Angeles Times, reporting on Israeli and Palestinian politics, culture and society.

Dina is drawn to stories featuring unlikely connections, dual narratives and the impact of conflict and crisis on ordinary lives. She hosts the podcast “Groundwork” and previously “The Branch”, which tell the stories of relationships between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

Dina is a long-time foreign correspondent who began her overseas career in the Jerusalem bureau of The Associated Press. She was later posted to AP’s Johannesburg bureau where she covered southern Africa. She’s also reported from Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Jordan, Tunisia, Russia, and Ukraine